A season of big numbers was highlighted by dazzling shopping and bopping sprees. Fourteen free agents signed contracts worth $1 million or more, topped by the five-year, $2.9-million deal that brought Reggie Jackson to New York. Leaving the Big Apple was Tom Seaver, who was traded by the Mets to the Reds in the most stunning of a flurry of mid-June transactions. A livelier ball led to a record number of home runs (3,642) and an eight-point increase, to .264, of the major league batting average from last year. Up, too, was attendance, climbing 7.5 million to a record 35 million-plus.
Baseball's latest version of the Katzenjammer Kids, the Yankees, were often guilty of selfishness, stubbornness, laziness and contentiousness. At the vortex of many of the storms was Jackson, who had proved himself to be a winner with the boisterous A's and a runnerup with the docile Orioles. Jackson endured, the Yankees matured, and in the end they all earned their pinstripes by coming out on top in the East. In the late going, the New Yorkers got their act together and entered the final week leading the Orioles by two games and the Red Sox by 2½. Five consecutive Yankee wins were then built around three shutouts, three saves by Sparky Lyle and nine home runs. Still, when the Yanks dropped three in a row at week's end, it remained for Boston and Baltimore to eliminate each other. Five RBIs by Jim Rice and four by Carlton Fisk gave the Red Sox an 11-10 victory that finished off the Orioles. Six Baltimore homers, two by rookie Eddie Murray (he ended up with 27), then ousted Boston 8-7 and clinched first place for New York on the next to last day of the season.
Keeping the Yankees going were Jackson (32 HRs, 110 RBIs), Graig Nettles (37 HRs, 107 RBIs), Thurman Munson (.308, 100 RBIs), Mickey Rivers (.326), Lou Piniella (.330) and Pitchers Ron Guidry (16-7, 2.82 ERA), Don Gullett (14-4) and Lyle (13-5, 26 saves, 2.17 ERA). The Red Sox, who led the majors in homers with 213, hit a record 33 during a 10-game June spree and had four big RBI men: Rice (114), Butch Hob-son (112), Carl Yastrzemski (102) and Fisk (102). Enabling the surprising Orioles to finish only 1½ games out were Ken Singleton (.328, 99 RBIs) and Jim Palmer, who was a 20-game winner for the seventh time. Injuries shelved Mark (the Bird) Fidrych most of the season, but Detroit again came up with a fine rookie pitcher in Dave Rozema (15-7, 3.10 ERA). Andre Thornton of the Indians made a resounding comeback: batting average up to .265 from last year's .195, homers up to 28 from nine, RBIs up to 70 from 24. Kansas City broke open a tight western race with a 37-9 finish. Reliever Doug Bird won six games and saved a dozen after the All-Star break, and Dennis Leonard won 20 games. The Royals more than doubled their home-run production with 145 and got 112 RBIs and .312 hitting from Al Cowens. They also kept themselves loose with pranks: covering a ball with whipped cream and chopped nuts, and gluing a ball to the bat of a slumping hitter. After having a record four managers in one confusing July week, the Rangers settled down and finished second. Chicago boosted its homers from 70 to 192, thanks largely to Oscar Gamble (31) and Richie Zisk (30). Dave Goltz won 20 games for Minnesota, and Rod Carew came within eight hits of batting .400. Bobby Bonds (37 HRs, 115 RBIs, 41 stolen bases) and Nolan Ryan (19-16) excelled for the Angels. Oakland rookie Mitchell Page batted .307 and stole 42 bases. Seattle's Lee Stanton made a remarkable resurgence as he increased his average from .190 to .275, his homers from two to 27 and his RBIs from 25 to 90.
With Tom Lasorda in the managerial saddle, the Dodgers galloped ahead in the West with a 22-5 start, led for all but seven days and became the season's only new divisional winner. Turnabouts were executed by Reggie Smith (average up from .253 to .307, homers up from 18 to 32, RBIs up from 49 to 87) and Dusty Baker (.242 to .291, four homers to 30 and 39 RBIs to 86). Steve Garvey had 33 homers (the most by a Dodger in 20 years) and 115 RBIs; Ron Cey, 30 home runs and 110 RBIs. Thus the Dodgers became the first team ever with four 30-homer men. And Tommy John was a 20-game winner. Despite George Foster, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Seaver, Cincinnati was never in the race. Foster was the majors' biggest bopper—52 home runs and 149 RBIs—since Willie Mays in 1965. Rose's ninth 200-hit season equaled Ty Cobb's major league record. Bench slugged 31 homers and drove in 109 runs. Seaver was 14-3 as a Red and 21-6 overall. Bob Watson drove in 110 runs for third-place Houston, and Cesar Cedeno finished with a .279 average after hitting .179 through June 24. Venerable Willie McCovey, 39, had 28 homers for the Giants. With Rollie Fingers (35 saves) on hand and with Cy Young-winner Randy Jones ailing, San Diego set a record for the fewest complete games—six. Gene Richards' 56 steals was a modern mark for rookies. There was little for Atlantans to savor except Jeff Burroughs '41 homers. Philadelphia Manager Danny Ozark was glad he was talked out of lifting Larry Christenson for a pinch hitter last week, because the pitcher slugged a grand-slam homer and the Phillies beat Chicago 15-9 to clinch first place in the East. The attack was built around Greg Luzinski (.309, 39 HRs, 130 RBIs), Mike Schmidt (38 HRs, 101 RBIs) and Bake McBride (.316). The Phillies thrived on the performances of Starter Steve Carlton (23-10) and Relievers Gene Garber, Ron Reed and Tug McGraw, who combined for 22 wins, 43 saves and a 2.59 ERA. Bruce Sutter (31 saves) helped Chicago stay on top in June and July, while Rich Gossage (26 saves) carried Pittsburgh. Both teams had 20-game winners: Rick Reuschel (20-10) for the Cubs and John Candelaria (20-5) for the Pirates. Bill Robinson's 104 RBIs and Dave Parker's league-leading hitting also buoyed the Bucs. Bob Forsch won 20 games for St. Louis, and Lou Brock broke Ty Cobb's base-stealing record (892) in August and brought his total to 900. Garry Templeton, 21, of the Cards hit .322 and became the youngest shortstop ever to get 200 hits. New York's Steve Henderson, acquired in the Seaver deal, hit .297 and drove in 64 runs in 98 games.